For many years, the George F. Lamm Post 622 American Legion Baseball team of Buffalo, N.Y., has been competing in the Randy Naylor Memorial Wooden Bat Tournament, held in Bath, N.Y. During the three-day event in June, Lamm players form lifelong friendships, learn how to play as one team and participate in a long-standing tradition — a group meeting held at Bath National Cemetery.
For the past four years, Lamm’s team manager Mark Weigel has escorted his players to the Civil War-era cemetery just hours before the tournament’s championship game. He recently upheld his tradition on June 10.
Early that Sunday morning, the players met Weigel in their hotel lobby dressed in full uniform. They traveled as a team to Bath National Cemetery, located on the grounds of the Bath Veterans Administration Medical Center, and made their way to "the highest point of this sacred ground where the American flag waves," Weigel said. Upon reaching their destination, Weigel said the young men "looked out over the tombstones that stretched all the way to the horizon. We removed our hats, and we had our meeting."
Weigel spoke of how his special bond with his father revolved around baseball and the nights he would listen on his transistor radio to his "beloved" Cincinnati Reds. And when Weigel’s father was alive, he shared his birthday with D-Day — a war he knew all too well.
"I said to the team, ‘My father spent the morning of his 25th birthday on a beach in France, and he wasn’t tanning. He cried like a baby while bullets whistled over his head, so it must be OK for heroes to cry. Every time I come to this cemetery, I wonder if one of these guys was right there with him. You are surrounded by the bravest people you will ever be around. And the next time you encounter adversity and think it is unfair, think about my dad and how he spent his birthday — for you."
Weigel’s personal account of his father left a resounding impact on the young men.
"While he was telling the story of his dad all that came to my mind was the thought of my parents," said Tyler Piasecki, Lamm’s catcher and shortstop. "How they attend every one of my games and how lost I’d be without them. I could tell my brothers on the team were feeling this emotion as well. It was a truly touching experience."
Weigel went on to tell the players to "fan out and read the stories, imagine the faces and listen for the voices." Once the young men walked alongside the countless white tombstones, the reality of what the young men and women in uniform sacrificed for their country sunk in.
"Just reading the names on the tombstones was enough to make me feel proud to be an American and thankful for the men and women who have served — they are the ones who made our country into the nation it is today," Piasecki said. "I took pictures along the way as a keepsake, and one of the pictures was of two tombstones side by side that read ‘Unknown.’ This just opened my eyes to all the ‘unknowns’ that made a difference and how sad it is to lay to rest a soldier without a name. I said a prayer for them."
An hour after the team meeting at Bath National Cemetery, the young men played ball and dominated the field. For the third time in four years, they captured the Randy Naylor Memorial Wooden Bat championship title.
"Friendships that will last a lifetime are made every year on Legion teams such as Lamm," Piasecki said. "These bonds are strengthened with every game because in order to succeed in the challenging Legion league, a team must play as one. This experience 100 percent solidified the bond we now share."